Everyone knows Tuscany for its beautiful rolling, green hills forever changing depending on the season, picturesque Tuscan villas – delicious traditional food and of course, that perfect glass of red wine cultivated in this region for centuries. It would seem almost impossible to stop in charming Tuscany, Italy without stopping in a tiny village or hamlet and savoring a Tuscan specialty, like pici pasta with wild boar ragu without a glass of Chianti wine to help wash it all down.
What determines the wine depends on several factors; mainly the grape varieties planted and the land on which they grow – which then characterize the product [wine] that comes from soil. Are the vineyards near the sea – on a slope – is the soil rocky? Often these are the trademarks of a region’s wine. Curious wine enthusiasts should relish the chance to walk through a vineyard with an expert to get an insider education on how these elements can affect the final product, all before the grapes are then harvested through a strictly regulated process which will result in that delightful wine that you will drink on your next trip to Tuscany.
Chianti Classico is one of the most well-known wine producing areas around the world, over 70,000 hectares of land stretching from the suburbs to Florence to the south of the city of Siena along the Chiantigiana road, a place where Etruscans and later Romans once inhabited and cultivated wine. The backdrop containing many beautiful Tuscan villas, fortresses and castles that cropped up during the years of battle between the Florentines and the Sienese, understandably both wanted to possess this fruitful land. Cities in the area of Chianti Classico include Siena, Greve in Chianti, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Panzano, Castellina in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti and Radda in Chianti, all producing wine with a dark ruby color and a good level of tannin that fines in time, becoming soft and velvety.
Now the Chianti Classico region, its borders defined in 1716 by the Grand duke Cosimo III de’ Medici, is a scene of picturesque tranquility with cypress trees lining ‘strade bianche’ [white roads], chestnut trees and sprawling vineyards. Occasionally you will spot a wild boar (in many local dishes) spring across the road, wild pheasants, or a porcupine searching for food. In the wine arena, the star of the show being the Sangiovese grape, this wine often symbolized the black rooster located on the top of the Chianti Classico wine labels.
The black rooster
But what about this cheeky rooster – what meaning lies behind this typical farm animal on a bottle of wine we know and love?
The red label featuring a black rooster [gallo nero in Italian] is a mark of excellence that behests the wines which undergo the very strict government regulation process, all in order for the wine to be classified as a Chianti Classico. What makes a Chianti a ‘Classico’ is that it must consist of at least 80% of Sangiovese grapes, and only 20% from other varieties. Now wine makers in this region can no longer blend white grape varieties in their Chianti Classico wines, a recent rule created around 2006.
The black rooster symbol itself has existed for over 700 years old, wine being made here for over 2,000 years. Wine that has been labeled ‘classico’ is also a DOCG wine (Controlled designation of origin – a quality assurance label). The Chianti Classico Wine Consortium was founded in 1924 and exists to protect and promote the integrity and quality of the wine, and we are thankful that they do – as nothing quite compares to a great glass of Chianti Classico wine accompanied by a Florentine ‘bistecca’ [steak] with rolling hills in the background. Next time you are in Tuscany, make sure to keep an eye out for this feisty black rooster in order to be assured of good quality dashed with a long history.